Skillet shepherd’s pie

Growing up, I never liked shepherd’s pie. It seemed like a good idea, but always tasted bland. My husband’s family makes a version using canned tomato soup and lots of cheese. It definitely has more flavor, but is nowhere near traditional. This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen has tons of flavor and is much more traditional. Plus, it makes ground beef seriously tender! That’s a big deal.

Naptime tip: Chop your veg and get your potatoes cooked, mashed and in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Dinner will come together super fast!

Skillet Shepherd’s Pie

(slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves 6.

*Sometimes I split the stew into 2 loaf pans before topping with potatoes. Broil one and freeze the other!

1-1/2 pounds 93 percent lean ground beef

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Salt and pepper

2-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1‐inch chunks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup 2 percent low‐fat milk

1 large egg yolk

8 scallions, sliced thin

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

4 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons good apple cider

2 tablespoons all‐purpose flour

1-1/4 cups beef broth

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons cornstarch


Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain potatoes; return to saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, to evaporate any remaining moisture, about 1 minute. Off heat, mash potatoes smooth with potato masher. Stir in butter. Whisk milk and egg yolk together in bowl, then stir into potatoes. Stir in scallions; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover; set aside.

Toss ground beef with 2 tablespoons water, baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in bowl until well combined; let sit for 20 minutes.

While beef is sitting, heat oil in broiler-safe 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook until bottom of skillet is dark brown, about 1 minute. Stir in apple juice, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, Worcestershire, bay leaf, thyme; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Pinch beef into 2-inch pieces and lay on top of mixture in skillet. Cover and cook gently until beef is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and breaking up meat chunks with two forks halfway through cooking time. Combine cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water in bowl, then stir into skillet. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until filling is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with pepper to taste.

Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place mashed potatoes in large zipper-lock bag; snip off corner to create 1-inch opening. Pipe potatoes evenly over filling to cover entire surface. Smooth potato with back of spoon, then use tines of fork to make ridges over surface. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet; broil until potatoes are golden and sauce is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly; serve.


Weekly dinner menu #5

 After a very, long, lingering first trimester of pregnancy, I’m back to proper meal planning! Here’s the plan for this week:
I haven’t been in the mood for meat much the past few weeks. I’m sure my husband will be so pleased our stint as vegetarians is over!
P.S. I’ll be using bacon, tilapia, hash browns and homemade ravioli from the freezer this week!

Perfect crème brûlée

Crème brûlée is one of my most favorite desserts. It’s a fancy restaurant standby because they (or you) can make the custard hours or even several days in advance, then brûlée it to order. Unfortunately, some restaurants botch their crème brûlées or worse, fake them with a weird pudding mix. Fortunately, I’ve discovered Alton Brown’s recipe which turns out perfect, every time.

*Naptime tip: This is a make ahead dessert! So make the custards during an early nap and they’ll be chilled and ready to torch by dinner time.

P.S. Skip the wimpy kitchen torches and buy a REAL propane torch from the hardware store. They’re not too pricy and last 10x longer!

Fresh berries are the perfect compliment to this rich dessert

A very slightly edited version of Alton Brown’s crème brûlée

Perfect crème brûlée

Yields 6 servings


1 quart heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for topping

6 large egg yolks

2 quarts hot water


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

While cream is steeping, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks in a medium bowl until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into six 8-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Place pan in oven and pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is just set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
When ready to serve, remove the crème brûlée from the refrigerator. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup sugar equally among the 6 dishes and shake to disperse evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a crispy top. Allow the top to cool for a minute or two. Serve with fresh berries. Enjoy!